Members of the SUNY Maritime Academy aid in the relief efforts using row boats to help victims from Hurricane Sandy October 31, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. (Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)
By Mary Orndorff Troyan
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Rep. Mick Mulvaney's proposal to cut $20.4 billion in federal spending to pay for Hurricane Sandy disaster aid was defeated Tuesday by the House.
The South Carolina Republican's amendment would have cut 1.63 percent from all federal discretionary programs, including the military. The tally was 162 members voting yes and 258 voting no.
Voting no were 187 Democrats and 71 Republicans.
The House later approved a total $50.7 billion in Sandy aid with bipartisan support. Mulvaney was opposed.
Congress typically hasn't required emergency disaster aid to be offset by spending cuts, but conservatives increasingly are demanding that such aid not add to the deficit.
Mulvaney, who watched the roll call from the House floor, said his amendment got more support than he expected, possible evidence lawmakers are increasingly reluctant to approve emergency spending that isn't offset.
But Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Appropriations Committee opposed Mulvaney's proposal.
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the proposed across-the-board cut would "slash and burn" important federal programs - including national security and veterans programs - without discretion.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said Mulvaney's amendment would have cut $1.4 billion alone from spending on the war in Afghanistan.
After the vote, Mulvaney said he would have preferred targeted spending cuts, but the House Rules Committee allowed only his amendment for a 1.63 percent cut to come to a vote.
Mulvaney insisted he was not trying to derail relief for the Northeast and said that even if Hurricane Sandy had struck South Carolina, he would have tried to find an offset for federal aid for the state.
"I never really expected this to pass... but I wanted to have the debate," he said of his proposal. "We could not allow this to sail through the House without at least having some discussion about spending."
Democrats leveled accusations of hypocrisy at lawmakers from hurricane-prone states who voted against the Sandy aid. One noted that Mulvaney himself received about $40,000 in loan money from a small-business disaster relief program after his law business flooded in 1997.
"Yes, I've waded chest-high in water with snakes and human waste in my own business," Mulvaney said.
He called financial assistance for disaster recovery a proper function of the federal government.
Tuesday's votes followed House approval on Jan. 4 of $9.7 billion to help pay flood insurance claims related to Sandy.
The amount of House-passed aid for victims of the storm now totals $60.4 billion, the same amount requested by the White House.
The aid package now moves to the Senate, which returns next week.
The Club for Growth, an influential anti-tax group, urged lawmakers to vote yes on Mulvaney's amendment and said it would include the vote on its annual scorecard rating members of Congress.
Another South Carolina Republican, Rep. Jeff Duncan, proposed cutting $1 million in Sandy disaster aid slated for the Legal Services Corporation. It was defeated 202-217.
The money, part of the proposal containing $33 billion in aid, provides mobile resources and technology for the legal aid organization to reach hurricane victims in New York, New Jersey and other northeastern states hit by Sandy.